A few days ago I blogged about the potential significance of the meeting between the Patriarch of Moscow, Kiriil, and Pope Francis, And in Thursday's News and Views from the Nefarium I also offered a few remarks suggesting that the meeting may also presage a long-term "break in process" of the Papacy with its standard relationship with the West. To be sure, the Vatican is part of Western culture and politics, and always will be. But the assumption from the oiligarchs of the west, especially the past few decades, is that the Vatican will always be firmly in its hip pocket, an assumption no doubt fueled by the strong anti-Communist pontificates of Pius XII (Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli) and more recently, Pope John-Paul II (Karol Cardinal Woytijla). I suggested in the last News and Views that this is a hazardous assumption to make, especially given the near absence of any reference to the slaughter of Christians in the Middle East, who are, of course, predominantly either Roman Catholic, or from various branches of Eastern Christianity (Orthodox, Nestorian, Coptic, Armenian, and so on).
Crucial for the reader to understand is that the Nestorian, Coptic, and Armenian churches are independent both of Eastern Orthodoxy and of Rome, and hence, their voices are seldom heard unless the Vatican or a major Orthodox patriarchate speaks for them to some degree. This, in part, is what the joint Declaration of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill attempts to do. Here's the text:
There are, of course (and as one has come to expect from such joint Roman and Orthodox Catholic pronouncements) the usual bows to tradition, to the acknowlegement of a common liturgical heritage and doctrinal tradition during the first millenium. But I do not think that this is the real import of this declaration. As I suggested in last Thurday's News and Views, the real import of the meeting of the two leaders may be seen as an indictment of the current demise of western culture, and more importantly, of its "leadership," in addition to being a call to address the plight of Christian persecution in the Islamic world. Here are the paragraphs that seem to confirm this analysis:
8. Our gaze must firstly turn to those regions of the world where Christians are victims of persecution. In many countries of the Middle East and North Africa whole families, villages and cities of our brothers and sisters in Christ are being completely exterminated. Their churches are being barbarously ravaged and looted, their sacred objects profaned, their monuments destroyed. It is with pain that we call to mind the situation in Syria, Iraq and other countries of the Middle East, and the massive exodus of Christians from the land in which our faith was first disseminated and in which they have lived since the time of the Apostles, together with other religious communities.
9. We call upon the international community to act urgently in order to prevent the further expulsion of Christians from the Middle East. In raising our voice in defence of persecuted Christians, we wish to express our compassion for the suffering experienced by the faithful of other religious traditions who have also become victims of civil war, chaos and terrorist violence.
10. Thousands of victims have already been claimed in the violence in Syria and Iraq, which has left many other millions without a home or means of sustenance. We urge the international community to seek an end to the violence and terrorism and, at the same time, to contribute through dialogue to a swift return to civil peace. Large–scale humanitarian aid must be assured to the afflicted populations and to the many refugees seeking safety in neighbouring lands.
We call upon all those whose influence can be brought to bear upon the destiny of those kidnapped, including the Metropolitans of Aleppo, Paul and John Ibrahim, who were taken in April 2013, to make every effort to ensure their prompt liberation.
11. ...We address, in a fervent appeal, all the parts that may be involved in the conflicts to demonstrate good will and to take part in the negotiating table. At the same time, the international community must undertake every possible effort to end terrorism through common, joint and coordinated action. We call on all the countries involved in the struggle against terrorism to responsible and prudent action. We exhort all Christians and all believers of God to pray fervently to the providential Creator of the world to protect His creation from destruction and not permit a new world war. In order to ensure a solid and enduring peace, specific efforts must be undertaken to rediscover the common values uniting us, based on the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
15. At the same time, we are concerned about the situation in many countries in which Christians are increasingly confronted by restrictions to religious freedom, to the right to witness to one’s convictions and to live in conformity with them. In particular, we observe that the transformation of some countries into secularized societies, estranged from all reference to God and to His truth, constitutes a grave threat to religious freedom. It is a source of concern for us that there is a current curtailment of the rights of Christians, if not their outright discrimination, when certain political forces, guided by an often very aggressive secularist ideology, seek to relegate them to the margins of public life. (Emphases added)
To my mind, paragraphs 11 and 15 constitute an indictment, largely of the West, and largely of its current leader, the United States. And it's a warning, that blank checks from either Church are no longer on the table.
This may seem an astonishing thing to say, but it should be remembered that pacificism is not a tradition of either Church, and that there is a right of self-defense that both Churches have endorsed in that "shared millenium" of a common tradition, and this is indeed, I think, how the declaration was intended to be read. Up until very recently in Orthodox history, petitions during the many litanies that fill the Orthodox ritual of the Divine Liturgy(the "equivalient" of the mass in Roman Catholicism), included petitions for protection of the Emperor/King/Tsar and "our Christ loving armies." And Rome's history includes, of course, the founding of the militant orders such as the Templars and Hospitallers, the latter of which, incidentally, "survives" as a sovereign military order, which were directly under the Papal jurisdiction.
In short, paragraph 15 is not to be understood to be about a reintroduction of some sort of "Christian theocracy" or "Catholic-Orthodox dominionism" in the West, (if I may borrow a term from Calvinism), but rather, in the context of other remarks, and particularly those of paragraph 11, an address directly to the leadership of the West, which the declaration is subtly suggesting is godless, to address the issue of Christian persecution and genocide, and address it genuinely and effectively. In this context, it is important to note also that the mention of Latin America was a deliberate reminder to the First World that a significant portion of the world might not be so ready to look askance if the issue is not addressed. It's a not-too-subtle reminder that it is not just Russia which constitutes a power bloc that could intervene with political power in the issue, but that there's another one as well.
To put this high octane speculative interpretation of the Joint Declaration country simple: the West is being told to address the issue of Christian persecution, and do so effectively, or there will be more joint declarations, and they may be of a more "practical" nature. And we can rest assured, the Vatican and Patriarchal chancery are probably well advanced in those discussions.
See you on the flip side...
(My thanks to Mr. V.T. and many others who supplied us with this text.)